Sophia Jansen, 12, is hosting her sixth fundraising garden concert on 14 September 2019. It’s her dream that children around the world organise their own garden concerts
Photo: Patricia Pitsch/Maison Moderne
Since the age of seven, Sophia Jansen has had one main goal--to remind children living in Afghanistan they have not been forgotten. Each year she achieves that goal by organising a garden concert, with this year’s edition expected to be her biggest yet.
“We can’t stop war, but we can share happiness and do something,” Sophia, now 12, explains when I interview her in August.
The idea took hold in 2014 when the Dutch schoolgirl watched a TV programme in which TV personality Floortje Dessing visited the Mobile Mini Circus for Children (MMCC), a circus school for children in Kabul.
“The children were playing and laughing. I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what,” Sophia recalls.
Mother Heidi Strijker jokes that Sophia had a lot of ideas at the time, most of which she forgot. But this one didn’t go away and Sophia held her first garden concert at the family’s garden in Wasserbillig, inviting her then piano teacher to play as well as family friends. Despite poor weather the event attracted around 60 people, who made donations.
The success motivated Sophia to repeat the event the following year when artist Edith Van Hoevel performed. It took on new proportions when, for the third edition, it was hosted at the residence of the Dutch ambassador, where she has held it since.
“More and more guests come and every year we raise more money,” Sophia says, adding that last year’s edition raised over €3,400 for the MMCC.
Each year Sophia tries to out-do the last concert. In 2018, she introduced an art auction of works donated by artists, significantly boosting the funds raised. And every year she writes to scores of professional musicians asking them to give up their time for free and perform. “It’s difficult to find people who want to donate art work or who are coming from far because I’ve no sponsors or budget,” Sophia explains. “I always find it very special that there are always people who are willing to help me completely voluntarily.”
Friendship and inspiration
For Sophia the garden concert isn’t just an event, it’s become a way of life for the past five years. In addition to spending a lot of her free time planning the following year’s edition, she keeps in touch with the children at the circus school via Skype.
“We just wave and ask how it is there,” she laughs, explaining that there is sometimes a language barrier. Sophia even met one of the young girls from the school called Rabia, a skilled juggler who was invited to perform at a circus in Germany. “Rabia taught me to juggle,” Sophia says. Rabia’s situation brings home the difficulties facing young girls in particular in Afghanistan. “At 14-15, they have to marry. That’s the problem. At a certain age the circus tries to keep them, but they get married off,” Strijker explains. She adds that the MMCC has tried to create a job so that this will not be Rabia’s fate.
Sophia’s experience organising her garden concerts has taught her many things but most important is the power to inspire. Two years ago, she was invited to talk in front of 250 young people at the Global Issues Network conference in Luxembourg (shown in the video below), an experience she loved. Indeed, when asked what she is most looking forward to about the next concert, she said: “I’m most excited about speaking to the people!”
Sophia says she hopes that her actions will show others they can do the things that are important to them. Her dream, meanwhile, is to begin a global movement, whereby other young people around the world organise their own garden concerts.
2019 marks the sixth edition of Sophia’s Garden Concert. It takes place on 14 September, from 2pm-6pm at the residence Bricherhaff, 138 rue des Muguets, L-2167 Luxembourg-Weimershof (Kirchberg). This year performers include the Luxembourg Jazz Choir, Sitta, Zaltimband and Swing Dance. Food will be provided by Chiche! and there will be an art auction with works from artists including Sophia Rein, to be auctioned off by the Dutch ambassador, and a photographic exhibition. Attendance is free by registration. To register, email [email protected], or call 00 352 621 232 444. For more information, visit sophiasgardenconcert.org or her Facebook page.